Grim trawl for bodies at Malaysia airliner crash site

Grim trawl for bodies at Malaysia airliner crash site
Belongings of passengers on the downed MH17.

GRABOVE, Ukraine - A guidebook on Bali and a children's card game lie amid the debris of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as emergency workers pick through the grisly carnage of the vast crash site, recovering corpse after corpse.

Painstakingly, fire fighters make their way through the wreckage, stopping here and there to plant sticks tied with white rags to identify the location of some of the 298 victims.

"Anatoly, come over here. There are a lot more in this field," a fireman shouts to his colleague as a light rain falls.

A day after the passenger jet was apparently shot down by a missile in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, dozens of fire trucks from surrounding towns were at the scene.

But with the debris scattered for kilometres, under-equipped emergency crews were clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy.

Hours after the disaster, an AFP crew at the site saw dozens of severely mutilated corpses still lying at the crash site after eyewitnesses reported seeing the plane disintegrate in mid-air.

An arm could be seen poking from under a seat lying in a ditch. Nearby, luggage was piled up on a slope.

Two engines, a piece of a landing gear and chunks of the fuselage dotted with windows were strewn about as melted metal solidified in pools.

The sound of dogs barking could be heard in the distance. Separatist fighters at the site said they will shoot any animals that come to scavenge there.

Kiev has blamed the rebels and their alleged Russian backers for downing the plane. But the separatist deny the claim and have vowed to protect the scene and allow investigators access to the crash site.

The smell of death

The rebels have also suggested that they are willing to agree to a temporary truce to facilitate the recovery but the sound of faraway explosions can still be heard sporadically.

Along a country road, a mini-bus has been converted into a crisis unit with 18 miners from a nearby pit serving as volunteers.

"Of course it's scary but we can't leave them like that," says Ivan, 54, a miner of 28 years, referring to the victims.

In the background the noise of a volley of Grad multiple rocket launcher is heard.

"Hear that, there they are again bombing the peaceful population" he says.

There are no crowds of curious onlookers at the scene and the inhabitants of a nearby hamlet remain indoors trying to make sense of the carnage that they've witnessed.

"You understand, it was as if a three-storey building came down but missed us," Pavel, 45, a farmer told AFP as he looked at some of the fuselage lying a hundred metres from his house.

"I'm in shock and will never forget it. We really almost died. It smells like death." Another crew of emergency workers walks past carrying a fresh bundle of sticks to use as markers.

One of them lets slip it is unlikely that all of the victims can be recovered.

"We realise that we'll never find all of them in an area of 25 square kilometres," he says.

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